Advertisement
Sports

Column: Hernandez: Dodgers afraid to take risks

After losing to the Cubs in Game 5, 8-4, Corey Seager said the Dodgers must be ready to play Saturday, if they want their season to continue. 

The Dodgers didn’t play like a Dave Roberts team Thursday night.

They played scared. They played with doubt.

They knew of Jon Lester’s well-documented problems throwing to bases, only they lacked the courage required to exploit it.

Enrique Hernandez danced and danced on the basepaths, but didn’t run. Corey Seager did the same. The Dodgers stole three bases, but should have stolen more.

Advertisement

They couldn’t afford to play with this degree of restraint, not when they had a precious few opportunities to score, not against a team with as much offensive firepower as the Chicago Cubs, not in the critical fifth game of the National League Championship Series.

The punishment for their passivity was an 8-4 defeat that moved them to within a game of elimination. 

Lester’s problems holding baserunners go back to his days with the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox tried working with Lester on delivering baseballs to first base, but that didn’t work. The Cubs tried pretending it was a non-issue. That didn’t work, either.

Lester’s glitch offered the Dodgers lineup a measure of optimism in what otherwise looked like a mismatch. Lester is one of baseball’s top left-handed pitchers. The Dodgers were baseball’s worst team against left-handers.

Advertisement

Roberts was smart enough to know the Dodgers would encounter their own mental obstacles. Telling his players that Lester had the yips was one thing. Convincing the players the problem was real was an entirely different matter. 

“Players aren’t wired to be off the base 25 feet,” Roberts said.

Technically, what Roberts promised were more significant leads off base, thinking they could unnerve Lester. 

The Dodgers delivered the leads. They failed to produce any fear, however. Lester was comfortable enough to limit the Dodgers to a run and five hits over seven innings to earn his second win of the series.

As was the case in Game 1, Lester figured out the Dodgers’ threats were empty. Only two Dodgers forced Lester to field a bunt, Joc Pederson in the second inning and Adrian Gonzalez in the seventh. And when the Dodgers reached base, they were hesitant to run.

This became abundantly clear in the bottom of the first inning, which Hernandez started by drawing a four-pitch walk. 

Hernandez immediately roamed a couple of dozen feet from first base. He shuffled his feet. Lester didn’t dare throwing over.

Advertisement

As Lester pitched to Justin Turner, there were times Hernandez was about a third of the way to second base, maybe farther. Second base was there to be taken, except he never did.

“He was pretty quick to the plate against J.T.,” Hernandez said. “I felt like I really couldn’t get a good jump.”

The price of Hernandez’s indecision became evident in the at-bats that followed. Hernandez advanced to second base on a single to left-center field by Seager and reached third on a fly ball by Carlos Ruiz. The inning ended on a groundout by Howie Kendrick.

If Hernandez had stolen second base, he would have presumably reached third on Seager’s single. Ruiz’s flyout to right field would have been scored a sacrifice fly and the Dodgers would have tied the game, 1-1.

A similar scene unfolded in the sixth inning with the Dodgers trailing, 3-1. This time, the culprit was rookie shortstop Seager, who reached base when cement-footed Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo allowed a chopper to bounce past his glove and into right field.

Again, Seager strayed far from first base. Again, he never bolted for second. When the inning ended, the Dodgers were still down by two runs. Two innings later, the Cubs broke open the game.

Predictably, Roberts defended Seager.

Advertisement

“When you get behind in the game, you don’t want to give up outs,” Roberts said.

Roberts wouldn’t throw Hernandez under the proverbial bus, either, saying of Seager and Hernandez, “They’re not prototypical baserunners.”

Roberts added that Lester’s personal catcher, David Ross, is a strong thrower. 

Still, the Dodgers’ inaction was curious, if only because they were rewarded when they gambled.

Turner singled with two outs in the third inning and promptly stole second base. Seager struck out to end the inning, but it was nonetheless a worthwhile risk. The steal allowed the Dodgers to have their best regular-season hitter at the plate with a runner in scoring position.

A stolen base produced a fourth-inning run that leveled the game, 1-1. Kendrick doubled to left field with one out and stole third base. Doing that allowed him to score when Gonzalez grounded out weakly to first base in the next at-bat. 

What made this game particularly disappointing was that the Dodgers failed to display the characteristics that made them so fun to watch this October. 

They weren’t fearless. They weren’t daring. They lacked conviction.

The Dodgers have to rediscover their identity over the next 48 hours. If they don’t, their season will soon be over.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez


Newsletter
Get our daily Sports Report newsletter
Advertisement